A revival project takes advantage of the “inconveniences” of a desert island

IKI, Nagasaki Prefecture―An abandoned island here attracts visitors because of its “inconvenience”.

Joblive Inc., a start-up in faraway Tokyo that offers specialized tours to uninhabited islands, is offering “survival” packages for Tsumagashima Island as part of a revitalization project.

The islet is located in the Genkai Sea, in the northern part of the Kyushu region. It is accessible from Ikinoshima Island in Iki via a five-minute ferry ride.

In early June, nine men and women between the ages of 30 and 40 from Junior Chamber International Nagoya came to Tsumagashima, using planes and boat rides from Aichi Prefecture.

They were looking for an “inconvenient life without electricity or tap water”.

During their two nights and three days on the island, the campers sourced seafood from the ocean and cooked their meals over a fire that they lit.

Yuka Inoue, 37, who suggested the trip, said she was happy with the package.

“It was the first time I was woken up by birdsong,” Inoue said with a smile. “The experience created great memories for me.”

Joblive began working to revitalize Tsumagashima two years earlier when a man who owns land on the island asked Joblive to “liven up the deserted islet”.

The last islanders left Tsumagashima two decades ago.

Kaito Kaji, 33, chairman of Joblive, and other staff traveled to surrounding districts for interviews with nearly 100 people who own plots on the island. The first owner acted as mediator.

Through recreational gatherings and drinking binges, Joblive officials became familiar with more residents.

“They treated us affectionately, like family,” Kaji said.

Local volunteers have joined the Joblive redevelopment project.

A Joblive employee relocated to Ikinoshima to open a sales office in 2021. The “uninhabited island survival camp package” was released in April of the same year.

Landowners transport participants to Tsumagashima.
Around 300 survival package visitors landed on the island last year.

Kaito Kaji, right, and Toru Nishina are staying at Tsumagashima in Iki, Nagasaki Prefecture on June 3. (Emika Terashima)

Toru Nishina, 25, a Joblive manager who moved from Tokyo to Ikinoshima in November to work as a clerk in the sales office, explained his motivation.

“The sea is incredibly beautiful and the fish are delicious,” he said. “It’s the biggest island. We’re going to revitalize this local community, starting with Tsumagashima.

Keiichiro Hirata, a 73-year-old Iki resident who offered to help with the program, said he has long cared for a shrine in Tsumagashima.

According to Hirata, Tsumagashima produced so many potatoes that it was nicknamed “Treasure Island” during World War II.

Hirata and her mother grew potatoes and beans in nine fields on the island until around 60 years ago. Even after leaving the fields, he continued to travel to Tsumagashima once a month for shrine maintenance.

He said he is delighted that campers and Joblive officials are making offerings to the shrine these days.

“I would be happy if visitors here tell more people about the island,” Hirata said.

Joblive works with parties responsible for the management of 100 islands nationwide. It organizes tourist tours for individuals and groups, and organizes photo and video shoots.

Some of the islets have camping sites and other facilities developed and managed by local governments or other organizations.

“Visiting the islands with young people will bring joy to the residents,” Kaji said. “As starting points for local development, I saw potential in islands that have little exchange with foreigners.”

Joblive set up its first island revitalization office in 2018 on Jinoshima in Wakayama Prefecture. Tsumagashima is the second site of the program.

In the summer of this year, the company also launched a revitalization project on Ushigakubijima Island in Kagawa Prefecture.

“There are up to 6,432 uninhabited islands across Japan,” Kaji said. “We will make full use of the islets for regional animation from now on.”

Another desert island in Nagasaki Prefecture serves as a model for local redevelopment.

Tashima in Saikai in Omura Bay is touted as “Japan’s most easy-going uninhabited island” because baths and restrooms are available there.

Movie-themed camp events or yoga sessions can comfortably be hosted on the island.

About 800 school trip students from all over Japan landed in Tashima last year. Businesses and other entities have reportedly made reservations on the island for training programs.

Tomohiro Katayama, 33, a representative of Omura Bay Resort, which manages the islet’s facilities, said the deserted islands have huge potential.

“Local revitalization starts from islands with nothing special, creating an environment in which staff can be nurtured,” he said. “They are full of potential.”

About Lillian Coomer

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